By Matters India Reporter
Tura, March 20, 2019: A Catholic priest accused of molesting a woman in a bus in Meghalaya state has been granted bail.
However, Fransalian Father Biju Joseph was suspended from all priestly duties by Bishop Andrew R Marak of Tura, taking note of media reports about the priest’s alleged wrong doing.
Father Joseph is the pastor of Somonpara Parish in South Garo Hills under Tura diocese.
Father Joseph’s congregation – Missionaries of St Francis de Sales — too suspended him as part of “routine procedures in such cases,” Father Shibu Poovathunkal, public relations officer of the congregation’s Northeast province, told Matters India on March 20.
Father Poovathunkal said the accused priest was given bail on March 19 by the Additional District Magistrate of North Garo Hills, Resubelpara.
“The bail vindicates our conviction that this is a typical case of exaggerations and inconsistencies of statements blown out of proportion. The speedy granting of the bail is a clear indication of the malicious propaganda and false allegations,” asserted the PRO’s March 20 statement.
Father Poovathunkal expressed confidence that Father Joseph would be able to prove his innocence by cooperating with the law of the land.
“We also completely distance ourselves from the offensive remarks against the victim by some persons and disapprove the alleged perception of a rift between the Catholics and non-Catholics in Garo Hills,” he added.
The Northeast Today, a local newspaper, March 20 reported that Bishop Marak, who signed the letter of suspension, said the Church condemned such acts done by priests. The prelate also sought wide circulation of the order to prevent flare ups among some Catholic groups.
The newspaper alleged the priest had used a fake name when he was arrested. This was dismissed by Father Poovathunkal, who said the accused priest’s identification card carried Biju Joseph, his name on the school certificate, whereas his baptismal name is Abraham Ponvilel.
The alleged incident occurred on March 16 when Father Joseph allegedly tried to hold the hand of a fellow female passenger seated next to him in a bus. The incident allegedly took place after the bus left Paikan in Goalpara district of Assam, a little after midnight, where a dinner stop is made.
When the woman reportedly raised alarm, other passengers manhandled the priest and handed him over to the police in North Garo Hills, Meghalaya.
Meanwhile, the 27-year-old alleged victim was subjected to mental torture by miscreants on social media who called her names and tried to shame her.
She has filed a first information report with the police, who are now on the lookout for those involved in naming and shaming her.